What is Sharenting?
The rapid rise of social media has made it easier than ever to share pictures with family and friends collectively. Platforms like Facebook and other social media sites and applications could be called “modern-day baby books” (Kumar & Schoenebeck, 2015), as parents engage in “sharenting” (Blum-Ross & Livingston, 2017) by posting content about their children online. Nowadays, many children may even have a digital footprint before birth, as parents share ultrasound photos.
Privacy Concerns in Sharenting
However, there is growing concern about the lack of privacy afforded to children when their parents engage in sharenting. Moreover, on social media, children may become influencers, either for themselves or used in content for their parent who is an influencer. This raises questions about the legal rights and protections these children have in terms of privacy and profits. This paper will briefly explore the research surrounding those topics and discuss potential research paths for further understanding the effects of sharenting and child influencing.
Parental Motivations for Sharenting
According to a 2021 survey by Security.org involving U.S parents and children, 77% of parents reported sharing stories, images, or videos of their children online. Much of the research on sharenting has been centered on parental motivation. When examining parent bloggers, their desire to share experiences, relate to other parents, and showcase their identity as a parent often conflicts with their child’s right to privacy (Blum-Ross & Livingstone, 2017). Mothers, in particular, may post to create a digital identity as a good mother, or validate their role as a mother when they receive likes and comments (Kumar & Schoenebeck, 2015).
Factors Influencing Sharenting
Recent research surveying U.S parents of children under 10 years old and found that, among those who posted pictures of their children online (which comprised the majority of respondents), several factors positively predicted parental sharing. These factors included time spent online and on social media, having a larger following and posting to the general public, adopting a permissive parenting style, exhibiting confidence in parenting, and experiencing FOMO (Amon et al., 2022).
Privacy and Safety Concerns in Sharenting
Privacy and safety concerns are significant factors when examining sharenting. In a Pew Research Center survey, 76% of parents who stated they shared information about their children online said that being able to share things with family and friends is a major reason for their online sharing (Auxier et al., 2020). However, among the 18% of parents in the survey who use social media but have never shared information about their children online, security reasons were the primary concern. Of these parents, 76% said a major reason for not sharing was to prevent others from accessing that information, and 71% cited serious concerns about websites collecting data about their children (Auxier et al., 2020). Parents who engage in sharenting have been shown to have fewer concerns about these risks (Amon et al., 2022).
The Risks of Sharenting
Parents’ security concerns are not baseless. Barclays bank estimates that by 2030, 7.4 million incidents of identity fraud per year could be linked to sharenting (Coughlan, 2018). Additionally, photos posted on social media may end up on sites used for sharing pedophilic images. An eSafety investigator in Australia found that up to 50% of images on those sites could be traced back to social media and blog posts. Although the original images were innocently posted, they ended up on sites where people left sexual comments on those same images (Battersby, 2015).
Impact of Sharenting on Children’s Media Use and Opinions
Sharenting can also impact a child’s media use habits and opinions. Research has found that children with parents who share images may be more likely to have their own social media accounts run by a parent, show interest in posting pictures of themselves on the internet, and view photos of themselves online (Amon et al., 2022). As children grow older and develop their preferences for self-disclosure both offline and online, as well as their identity (Davis, 2012; Valkenberg, Sumter & Peter, 2011), their opinions about sharenting can change.
Adolescents’ Perspectives on Sharenting
Adolescents are often embarrassed by their parents’ sharenting and may worry about the consequences of having their pictures online, especially if their peers see the posts (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019; Verswijvel et al., 2019; Walrave et al., 2022). Adolescents’ opinions about sharenting are influenced by their perception of their parents’ motives. According to Verswijvel et al. (2019), if adolescents believed sharenting was primarily for archiving information, they had more positive feelings towards the practice. However, if they thought it was for “impression management” or an effort by parents to make themselves look better, they held a more negative view.
Walrave et al. (2022) found similar results: adolescents felt more positive about sharenting when the post highlighted a positive achievement or event, unless they perceived themselves as looking unattractive or weird. Adolescents’ views on sharenting are also shaped by their own desire for privacy. Those who shared more online felt more positive about the practice than those who were more concerned about privacy (Verswijvel et al., 2019). Many adolescents were worried that their parents were not taking proper precautions to protect their information (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019).
The Importance of Permission in Sharenting
Arguably, the most crucial aspect is simply asking for permission. Research consistently shows that adolescents want to be asked before their parents post content about them online (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019; Sarkadi et al., 2020; Verswijvel et al., 2019; Walrave et al., 2022). 71% of parents report seeking their child’s permission to post (Security.org Team, 2021).
Parent and Family Influencers and Kidfluencers
Influencers, or microcelebrities who monetize attention, are a relatively recent phenomenon. While the term “influencer” has existed for centuries, a newer, more specific definition has emerged within the context of social media. Merriam-Webster defines an influencer as “a person who is able to generate interest in something (such as a consumer product) by posting about it on social media” (Merriam-Webster, n.d).
Child Integration in Parent Influencer’s Brand
When someone engaging in sharenting on social media gains a following, they may become a parent influencer, focusing their content on their parenting practices and/or their children. In some cases, the child becomes integrated into their parent’s “brand” because many parents of child influencers may have already been influencers themselves, either related to parenting older siblings or due to their social media status before becoming a parent.
Micro-Microcelebrities and Identity Formation
Abidin (2015) describes these children as “micro-microcelebrities” defined as “children of Influencers who have themselves become proximate microcelebrities, having derived exposure from their prominent Influencer mothers.” Consequently, for their social media followers and for the parent of the child gaining attention and influencer status, that child may be seen as an extension of the adult, which could impact the child’s identity formation (Holiday, Norman & Densley, 2022; Jorge, Maropo & Neta, 2021). Another concern is that some parents with a large social media following might define their children in a way, even from birth, that maximizes their advertorial potential or exploits their emotional distress (Abidin, 2017, 2021).
Content Types and Performativity
For some, the daily family lifestyle becomes the central content of interest. Family influencers typically produce two main types of content: anchor and filler (Abidin, 2017). Anchor content highlights the family’s talents, such as singing together, while the filler content captures the “everyday” lives of the family, like celebrating milestones or running errands. However, these moments of domesticity may be considered performative. Although the content may seem to showcase the family’s everyday, it could still be curated to intentionally create relatability while generating social capital and potentially monetary gains (Abidin, 2017).
Pushback from Children and Consent Issues
Although evidence is currently primarily anecdotal, there have been reports of children of celebrities or Influencers pushing back against their inclusion in such content. A Reddit post covered by multiple pop-culture news organizations like Buzzfeed claimed that the poster publicly announced her non-consent to being filmed at home but was still filmed for content. Her family’s page was subsequently demonitized, and the original poster lamented her punishment for her actions ([spindifu], 2022).
Similarly, Gwyneth Paltrow posted an image featuring her daughter from what appears to be a ski trip, wearing ski goggles and showing mountains in the background. Gwyneth’s daughter Apple commented on the image: “Mom we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent.” Gwyneth defended herself, noting, “You can’t even see your face!” While neither mother nor daughter ever confirmed if the exchange was in jest or serious, it sparked a debate around privacy and consent in the comment section (Woodward, 2019).
The Emergence of Kidfluencers
Kidfluencers can emerge from this environment as well. A kidfluencer is a child influencer who is the main attraction of the social media following, rather than the parent or the family as a whole (although parents are likely monitoring and guiding the development of their social media).
Prominent Examples and Revenue Sources
One prominent example is Ryan from Ryan ToysReview, who at 7 years old, was the highest-paid YouTube Influencer, earning $22 million primarily from play and “unboxing” videos where people film themselves opening up toys or other products (Berg, 2018). Unboxing videos are extremely popular with children on YouTube (for more on this topic see Marsh, 2015; Nicoll & Nansen, 2018). However, the actual content of Ryan’s videos did not generate his enormous profits. About 95% of the money Ryan made in 2017-2018 came from advertisements that played before or during breaks in the video, with the remaining $1 million from sponsored posts (Berg, 2018). This significan revenue generated by ads and viewship is concerning, considering Ryan’s primary demographic is other young children, making them the target of that advertising.
Aspirational Impact on Children
For children watching his and other famous YouTuber videos, it can elicit an aspirational desire, much like looking up to astronauts or firefighters. A 2018 survey of children ages 7-11 ranked “Social Media and Gaming” as the 4th most popular career aspiration (Chambers et al., 2018), and there are toys where children can play as an Influencer, creating an internet persona and uploading videos in a mock YouTube (Ruiz-Gomez, Leaver & Abidin, 2022).
Legal Concerns in Child Influencer Culture
Compensation and Privacy Issues
The previous two sections have reviewed the current ecological landscape of sharenting and influencer culture involving children. For the latter, there are some specific legal concerns that should be addressed, although this is certainly still a developing legal topic. Compensation and privacy are two topics of particular interest considering the nature of a social media presence and the lucrative possibilities of influencer marketing.
Existing Regulations and Limitations
An essay from the Stanford Law Review Online describes a child whose likeness and content generates profit as “essentially a child performer,” for which there are some regulatory precedents (O’Neill, 2019). The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulates child labor but does not apply when the child is employed by the parent or as an actor; The Childhood Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) also defers to parents as the decision-makers when it comes to what content of their child can be shared online and therefore collected by those apps and sites (O’Neill, 2019). This leaves a large gray area for children present on influential social media accounts.
State-Level Regulations and Coogan Trusts
Some states go further and have precedents when it comes to compensating young performers. Some states mandate a Coogan Trust, requiring 15% of the child’s income to be placed in the account, which is protected until the child is no longer a minor (SAG-AFTRA, n.d). However, this mandate is not far-reaching, only existing in certain states, which is problematic given the nature of influencing happening anywhere and at any time. O’Neill (2019) suggests that the nature of social media requires an expansion of Coogan Laws and Work-Permit regulations for other states in order to protect child social media stars financially, and also recognize and compensate the children highlighted on social media for their privacy risks.
International Efforts and Future Directions
France has amended their Labour Code to specifically tackle this phenomenon. Child influencers under the age of 16 must have a permit issued. However, the onus is placed on the social media applications and the general public to report potential transgressions to this law, so its effectiveness is unknown (Goanta, Bertaglia & Iamnitchi, 2022).
In the rapidly changing landscape of social media in the last two decades, the ability for parents to share images of and information about their children has grown exponentially easier and more far-reaching. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have allowed those with large followings to monetize their social media accounts. For parents whose following is focused on family life, they offer brands mainly used by children and families the opportunity to gain new customers.
However, the long-term effects of these practices on the children involved are not yet well understood – many children who have had a social media presence online for most if not all of their lives are still very young. Nonetheless, adolescents are clear about their desire for privacy and rights when it comes to their likeness being shared, such as wanting parents to ask permission before posting something or taking a post down upon request.
Privacy and safety concerns are also not yet fully understood, it may take years to understand the identify risks of widespread parental sharing. Clearly, this field of study will be of crucial importance as the children of influencers grow older and if challenges from children regarding content about them being posted online become more frequent. Legal precedents, should legislation become more developed in the coming years, can also help lead the research on this subject, particularly when it comes to consumerism and privacy.